Always wanted to start learning Japanese but keep putting it off? Well, why not start now? Right now! Oh… you don’t know where to start? This is a quick guide to how to start studying Japanese for beginners.
First ask yourself why do I want to learn Japanese?
Is it because you want to watch anime or read manga? To talk to people? To live in Japan?
Write down all the reasons you want to learn and keep that as a goal that’s always in view. It will also help you focus your studies when you hit the intermediate level.
You need to realize that reaching that goal will take a few years, and that’s ok.
You won’t learn Japanese in one week. There may be times when you stop studying for a while and then kick yourself (I’m guilty of this), but that’s ok too. Everyone does it, just accept that and pick it up again. You’ll find yourself getting better slowly and it’s amazing when you hit a new milestone.
Speaking of milestones, aim for and take the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests (JLPT). It doesn’t matter if you’re not going to have a career in Japanese, aiming for and taking the tests is a great way to set yourself goals. Take the exam even if you don’t think you’re ready, it’s good motivation, practice and will boost your Japanese.
So where should I start?
I always suggest learning kana while studying basic vocabulary. Good resources for these:
- Memrise JTalkOnline Learn Hiragana Using Vocabulary – Free flashcard program for PC and app, teaches vocabulary and has audio.
- Memrise JTalkOnline Learn Katakana Using Vocabulary
- Japanese Hiragana & Katakana for Beginners: First Steps to Mastering the Japanese Writing System – Cheap, teaches you vocabulary as well, and comes with CD. (less than $13 on Amazon)
See Japanese – Where to Start to find out why kana is so important.
I know the kana, now what?
Now it’s time to learn basic vocabulary and grammar.
You may have already learned about 100+ vocabulary through the hiragana/katakana courses on Memrise, but the next step is to learn more! (Another 700+ to be precise…)
A good place to start learning basic vocabulary if from JLPT resources. JLPT means the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and the first beginners level is the N5. Even if you don’t want to take the test JLPT N5 materials are a GREAT place to start! They cover basic vocabulary, kanji and grammar.
A good foundation is extremely important when studying Japanese as it will make the more advanced materials easier.
Beginners Vocabulary & Grammar
As I mentioned, Memrise is a great website to learn Japanese for FREE as a beginner! You can access it on your phone and/or on the computer.
Click here to see how to combine the above Memrise courses so you learn 1500 Japanese Words, 280 Kanji, 100 Grammar in 14 weeks!
See Japanese – Where to Start II for more expansive advice on where to go next and some good Memrise courses for beginners.
(Books like Genki or Japanese for Busy People are suggested by many people for beginners, but I disagree. Unless you’re in a class working with a Japanese teacher, it’ll be difficult to learn from these books. The above suggestions are good for self-study.)
Some other tips for studying Japanese as a beginner
1. I suggest trying to get at least an hour a week with a teacher. You can find local ones online, or have cheap skype lessons through websites like italki.com (I’ve use italki and the teachers are very good at reasonable prices).
2. If you can, save up and take a holiday in Japan and attend a school there (they vary from 1 week to 3 months), it’s a great way to quickly boost your skills! (Click here to see why!)
3. But also study outside of lessons regularly.
Say it takes 140 hours to learn the basics of Japanese, if you study 1 hour a week it will take you 140 weeks (2.5 years), but if you study 1 hour a day it will take you 5 months.
It’s better to do little and often, repetition and frequent learning are key to getting the Japanese solidified in your brain.
4. Aim to study everyday but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t, studying too much in one go can fry your brain, and turn Japanese into an un-enjoyable chore.
5. Write down and read out loud. Don’t just use computer programs, when you’re learning something new and when you’re revising something, write it down and read it out loud. This will help you memorize the Japanese through muscle memory and help you get used to speaking it. It might be awkward at first but the more you do it, the better you get.
How long with this all take?
Well it depends on YOU!
Some people learn hiragana in 2 weeks, others in 6 weeks, and some take a year.
Then you have your basic 800 vocabulary and your first 100 kanji. These can take 2 months to 1 year.
The more frequently you study the faster you’ll learn! You don’t have to study for hours every day though! Just 15-20 minutes a day can make a HUGE difference!
Find out more on why you shouldn’t study just 1 hour a week.
That was a very quick guide to learning Japanese as a beginner. I go over all of these suggestion in more detail and have lots more resources on the rest of this website, including advice for intermediate, advanced, using anime to study Japanese, and even how to translate manga.
My final suggestions for studying Japanese is to challenge yourself, make mistakes, and have fun! ^_^
Other Useful Articles For Beginners
Japanese Study Resources
Study Tips & Tricks
- Study Japanese When You’re Busy
- Why You Shouldn’t Study 1 Hour a Week
- How to be Productive When Studying Japanese
- Techniques to Improve Speaking Fluently
- I’m Afraid of Kanji – study techniques and resources for kanji